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Camping in Scotland guide for beginners

Written by Fiona

July 30 2020

Camping is a great way to enjoy time in the outdoors, especially in Scotland. It’s relatively cheap and it allows you to feel close to nature and the landscape. This guide to camping for beginners provides tips and advice on different types of camping, what you should know and a basic kit list.

What style of camping is for me?

There are two main types of camping: Campsite camping and wild camping.

Campsite camping

Campsite camping offers more more facilities, from the basics, such as toilets and showers, to laundry, washing up, games rooms, restaurants, shops and more.

You might prefer a more basic campsite with fewer facilities because it feels more like a wilder/natural camp. For many people, however, they like mod-cons and a campsite with a wider range of facilities feels more like a home-from-home.

A campsite is a great place to start, to find out if camping is for you. You might also like to borrow a tent and kit from friends so you can try before you buy your own equipment.

How you arrive at a campsite will determine what you take with you. If you drive, you can pack your car with all kinds of kit. You can choose a larger tent without thinking too much about the weight of it.

A great tent for families especially is one with inflated poles, rather than traditional metal poles. Airbeam tents are really sturdy and the poles don’t break.

You might like the comforts of a blow-up camping mattress or camp bed, a big cosy sleeping bag or duvet and pillows.

You can add all kind of extras for your camping trip, including a double burner camping stove, a barbecue, crockery, cutlery, cooler for chilled items, camping chairs, a chemical toilet and tent, speaker for music, lantern etc. The list will be limited only by your budget, although do remember you’ll need to find a place to store it all when not in use at home.

Tip 1: Don’t forget a midge net for your face/head and midge repellent. The midges can be fierce in Scotland summertime.

Tip 2: If you decide to have a barbecue, don’t bring it into your tent “for warmth” later on. Even if it appears the charcoals are out they may still be burning and this creates carbon monoxide. The CO can be lethal in a small space, such as a tent.

In general terms, driving to a campsite allows you to pack as much as you want because it’s easy to set up camp straight from your vehicle.

If you travel by public transport or by bicycle/on foot, your kit will be more limited because you need to carry it yourself in a rucksack. With this in mind, you are more likely to want lighter weight items and to be more choosey with what you pack.

Of vital importance, is that you take home everything you bring to a campsite. If there are facilities for getting rid of rubbish, then use these by all means but if not, do take home everything that you brought.

Wild camping

Wild camping, also known as informal camping, refers to sleeping “in the wild”, rather than at a campsite.

As part of the Land Reform Act of 2003, the Scottish Outdoors Access Code allows for “responsible” wild camping in Scotland.

The code states that wild camping must be “lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place”.

The kit for wild camping needs to be lightweight and packable because you need to carry it.

You should not camp in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals, nor close to buildings, roads or historic structures.

The aim is to get away from other people, buildings and livestock so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of a perfect rural spot and, hopefully, with great views.

Possibly the most perfect spot I have enjoyed for a wild camp.

Take note:

Layby camping is not wild camping: It is an offence under road traffic legislation to camp on a roadside (including laybys). Layby camping is not wild camping.

Park bylaw: There is a bylaw in operation in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park during the summer months that requires people to buy a permit to camp. It’s still possible to wild camp if you walk away from roads and trails and get well into the hills and mountains, but most areas along the sides of Loch Lomond require you to buy a permit. See camping in the park.

Leave no trace

Wild campers must take away all litter and remove traces of the tent pitch, as well as any small fire that might have been lit. If you can, use a camping stove rather than a fire and always think about the implications of your camp on the environment. Read the Leave no Trace advice.

A few words about wild toileting

Human waste is an important topic. You should not urinate within 30m of fresh water, such as a stream or loch.

But more importantly is the topic of poo. Human feaces should be buried. Do not do a poo and then cover with a few stones. This is not sufficient to stop others coming across the poo and it doesn’t aid the degrading of the poo.

Poo will degrade best if it is buried in soil. Dig a hole with a small camping trowel (yes, you should take one with you) and recover the hole.

Make sure you “go” away from where other people are likely to step, for example, do not go at the side of a car park or just off a walking trail.

And never leave toilet paper or wet wipes when you go to the toilet. They do not degrade. You could choose to wipe you bum with a natural product, such as leaves, and bury this in the hole with the poo. Better still, take the paper or wipes home with you in a plastic bag. I use dog poo bags for this.

If you have the urge to go near where other people might step, for example near a car park, and you really can’t hold on, my advice is that you poo in a plastic bag and take it away with you. Supermarket shopping bags fit neatly over bottoms and can be double wrapped to prevent leakage.

Many popular areas, even in the mountains, have problems with human waste. If you think about every walker, climber and mountain biker stopping for a poo, you can then see how this becomes an environmental issue. If you can’t bury it, poo in a bag and take it away.

Wild camping requires you to carry all your kit on your back.

Camping kit list for beginners

The kit list will depend on what type of camping you plan to do. Campsite camping allows you to take a long list and you do not need to worry too much about size and weight. I have listed many of the items above. The list will be as long as your budget allows.

For wild camping, kit should be lightweight and easy to pack. My list usually includes:

  • Large rucksack (45 to 55l).
  • Lightweight tent
  • Sleeping bag (lightweight but also offering enough warmth for the weather/conditions. Vango sell a lightweight bag, for example.)
  • Sleeping mat (I like the inflatable Therm-a-rest style)
  • Cooking stove and pot
  • Camping bowl, cup and cutlery
  • Water bladder or bottle
  • Food for meals and when walking
  • Waterproof jacket and over-trousers
  • Walking clothes (take as little as you feel you can get away with)
  • Change of socks for walking each day
  • Walking boots/shoes
  • Compass
  • OS Map
  • Mobile phone (use as a camera)
  • Headtorch
  • Midge net and repellent
  • Sun lotion
  • Beanie hat or buff
  • Gloves.

Where to go camping in Scotland

There are many campsites, from remote sites with fewer facilities, to large sites with everything laid on. Check out campsites.co.uk, pitchup, Cool Camping and Visit Scotland.

For wild camping, you need to explore. I am not going to tell you my favourite places, rather I would encourage you to get off the beaten track and find your own camping spots. Just remember to stick to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and behave responsibly and leave no trace.

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